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Collaboration between universities and heritage organisations propels research and projects within the field.

This month’s #HeritageChat, hosted by The Historic Environment Forum (HEF) and guest facilitator Oliver J.W. Cox (@OliverJWCox), discussed the future of this collaboration and asked what do universities need from the heritage sector and visa versa?

Each month on Twitter, the HEF brings together senior members of public and non-government heritage bodies to tackle key strategic matters for the Heritage sector. The discussion’s theme is selected by that month’s host and seeks to strengthen partnerships and collaborative working in the historic environment sector. Each session features six-eight questions and participants respond under the hashtag #HeritageChat.

On Tuesday 21st of September 2021, the Twitter #HeritageChat created a space to discuss the importance of university collaboration with the heritage sector, focusing more specifically on the ways in which heritage organisations and academic institutions can manage and improve this relationship.

The discussion began by identifying the main practical barriers for collaboration between universities and the heritage sector and how these can be overcome. The Heritage Trust Network (@HTNmembers) responded that finding out which universities and which staff members to approach can be difficult: “time and resource[s] seem to be key concerns amongst our members – especially smaller heritage organisations who perhaps do not have the capacity to build and maintain strong links to relevant, local university departments.” Professor Ian Baxter (@ibheritage) stated that university’s often work with different timescales and Laura Ferguson (@LauraFer338) agreed that: “from the perspective of an academic […] time is a major barrier.” To overcome this, Professor Baxter suggested “better signposting on webpages; using networks to broker relationships [and] explaining how we work better.”

The second #HeritageChat question drew attention to positive examples of collaboration between universities and the heritage sector, such as internships and work experience placements. At the University of Exeter for instance, a recent internship with heritage partner Wells Cathedral enabled students to not only gain organisation, communication and team-working skills, but also provided them with a better understanding of the role of heritage within local communities.

Furthering this, question three focused on how academic and heritage sector collaboration could help widen and diversify audiences of the future. Heritage Alliance (@Heritage_NGOs) replied that greater collaboration can mean finding joint ways to enhance experiences for students who have an interest in heritage. This would improve pathways into heritage careers and inspire a new generation of heritage advocates. Hana morel (@hanamorel) continued that diversifying audiences would mean diversifying types of engagement, methods, strategies, resources and types of knowledge: “to be diverse and inclusive we need diverse expertise, skills and knowledge, made possible through collaboration.”

The chat concluded by discussing what practical outcomes researchers, students and university staff might hope to see from collaboration with heritage organisations and, additionally, what can universities and heritage organisations do to support students in their heritage journey?

Discussing practical outcomes, Oliver J.W. Cox (@OliverJWCox) replied with hopes for skills development for students and researchers and more visibility for research opportunities, while recent graduate Museum Wannabe (@MuseumWannabe) hoped for opportunities to develop skills and experience in different areas in the sector.” @newlibnewlab suggested internships for students in more varied areas, including public facing roles and assisting management.

In supporting students, @newlibnewlab replied with the need for mid-degree internship placements to enable students to build up experience prior to their graduation, and Museum Wannabe (@MuseumWannabe) suggested that degree courses closely aligned with the sector should expect and encourage students to want to work in heritage and establish opportunities for this. 

To watch or be a part of the next #HeritageChat, follow @HeritageChat on Twitter.